Weak rule of law

Weak rule of law

In a country with so many laws covering all aspects of life and so many lawyers, it is dismaying to see the country ranking low in an international study on adherence to the rule of law.

The latest Rule of Law Index, drawn up by the World Justice Project, ranked the Philippines 102nd out of 139 countries and economies – a drop from 91st place out of 128 last year. In fact since 2015, when the Philippines placed 51st out of 103 included in the index, the country’s rank has fallen steadily, to 70th out of 113 in 2016, 88th out of 113 in 2017-2018 and 90th out of 126 in 2019.

Security and order, fundamental rights and criminal justice – areas where the Duterte administration has drawn strong criticism – are not the only factors considered in the index. There are five other indicators: open government, absence of corruption, constraints on government powers, regulatory enforcement and civil justice.

Even before the Duterte administration came in, the Philippines was already weak in many of these areas. General weakness in adherence to the rule of law has been cited as a major factor in discouraging job-generating investments. The country, it is often said, has too many laws and too little enforcement. And there are Filipinos who study the law to learn how to get around it.

The weakness in the rule of law is a factor in national progress and quality of life. Advanced economies topped the index, with Denmark and Norway sharing first place followed by Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Austria, Ireland and Estonia.

Meanwhile, at the bottom were Venezuela, Cambodia, Congo, Egypt, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Haiti and Nicaragua.

In East Asia and the Pacific, the Philippines remained at 13th place out of 15, ahead only of strife-torn Myanmar and Cambodia. Within the region, New Zealand is followed by Australia, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. Also ahead of the Philippines are Malaysia and Mongolia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and China.

Rankings can improve. For the Philippines, however, this will entail institutional reforms and sea changes in governance and even in the culture itself. The reforms need not wait for the periodic leadership changes during elections. Everyone has a role to play in strengthening the rule of law.